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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brier brouhaha coming

Format changes for next year have some happy, some steamin' mad

Posted: 03/4/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 03/4/2014 9:20 AM | Updates

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. — So, will the Canadian men's curling championship in 2015 be more Canadian because it will for the first time include Team Canada?

Or will it be less Canadian because it won't include one of the 10 provinces?

It's an interesting question and one that is about to become a reality when a long-awaited -- and much-talked about -- format change is implemented at next year's Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary.

The changes will be twofold:

For the first time ever at the Brier, the defending champion from this year's event will return in Calgary as Team Canada, just as has been occurring for years at the Canadian women's curling championship;

'It's shocking that they're going to that level. We're firm believers that messing with traditions like the Brier just isn't a smart decision'

— Nova Scotia skip Jamie Murphy

And the two teams playing here this week whose provinces have amassed the fewest number of wins over the last three Briers combined will have to take part in a four-team playoff -- joining Nunavut and Yukon, who aren't here -- immediately prior to the start of next year's Brier, with only one of those four teams advancing to the actual Brier.

In the world of curling, where change is always viewed suspiciously, the changes to the Brier format next year are nothing less than seismic and the reviews have thus far been decidedly mixed.

For the most part, the news of an automatic re-entry for the defending Brier champion is very popular with the teams, many of whom have lobbied for years for a Team Canada at the Brier.

"I love the Team Canada idea," Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton said earlier this week. "As a team, you can make some plans for the next season knowing that you don't have to go through the playdowns again just to try and qualify to get back here. And it's good for the organizers, too -- it gives them a team that they know they can market."

But while a Team Canada entry is popular, the elimination of one of the provinces from next year's Brier field is much more contentious -- and especially so among players from provinces on the bubble.

"It's shocking that they're going to that level. We're firm believers that messing with traditions like the Brier just isn't a smart decision," Nova Scotia skip Jamie Murphy said Monday.

"We're obviously biased when we say that because we're probably in the relegation pool. But if you even talk to the top teams there's something about the Brier that's different. We bring a lot of fans from Nova Scotia and they're fan favourites. And to put families and what-not into that predicament next year -- Do we go? Do we not go? How do we get ready?

"It's not right."

This is the situation right now: Coming into this week, Nova Scotia, P.E.I and B.C. were the provinces with the fewest number of combined wins over the last two years, tied at five, followed by Saskatchewan with eight then New Brunswick and Quebec with 10.

The Northwest Territories, normally a doormat at this event, is probably safe with 12 combined wins over the last two Briers, thanks to the unusually strong play of skip Jamie Koe.

Those previous wins will be added to whatever wins are recorded here this week and then the two provinces with the fewest number of total combined wins are going to be "assigned" -- the Canadian Curling Association is not using the term relegated -- along with Nunavut and Yukon to a "play-in round" that will take place in the days immediately prior to next year's Brier.

Nova Scotia looks to be in the worst predicament right now, thanks to their low standing coming in and Murphy's 0-4 start to this year's event.

The CCA is still figuring out what the format will be for the play-in event, but whatever format they use the net result will be only one of the four "assigned" teams will advance to play in the actual Brier, with the three others sent packing.

What all that means is no matter how you slice and dice it, there is going to be at least one province missing from next year's Brier field.

Koe says he's not a big fan of the new system, but said he takes pride in the fact his strong play in recent Briers means N.W.T.'s Brier status is probably safe, at least for another year.

"We're pretty proud we're not one of the teams that will be clenching tight at the end of the week just hoping to make sure their province is in the Brier next year," said Koe.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2014 D4

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Updated on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 9:20 AM CST: Replaces photo

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